So the Jungle is finished. It was a day that was hoped for by so many, that place should never have existed in the first place, but it also leaves sadness.
So many people that I have spoken to say that they miss the Jungle in Calais. They reach a place of safety, reach a goal, the supposed dream and then miss that shit hole of a place. Why? Well, because it was so much more than just a shit hole. It was so much more than a few shacks and tents. I have never really been a great advocate of the idea that you have to have lived it to understand. For example, I don’t have to be black to know that racism is wrong but, in the case of Calais, it is true. It is difficult to explain why you have to have been there to understand but I will try.
The Jungle was not just a place for people to sleep but a place for people to stand. People stood up for what they believed in, people moved heaven and earth to make things happen against all the odds. People remained resilient and kind in the face of the worst treatment. People stood up against their worst fears, their worst nightmares and came out the other end. People were able to be in a way that normal life does not usually encourage and that goes from one spectrum of human behaviour to the other. There was brutality, violence, fear, joy, laughter, music, more laughter, hospitality, hard work, theft, exploitation, beauty, resilience and so much more. Everything was extreme, extremely kind, extremely brutal, extremely extreme and it is not often that you get to experience life in the extreme. I discovered that I am good in a crisis. In ‘normal’ life being good in a crisis doesn’t really get you anywhere, unless you’re a firefighter or something, and it is not often that you get to flap your feathers. In the jungle there were many people like that who got to show their beautiful feathers in a way that normal life would not allow them and that goes for everyone.
The Jungle was a place that rose up out of the sand dunes, out of the chemical waste, fuelled by the ingenuity of the human spirit. I remember walking along the path one day and a broken tent was lying by the path. By the time we made our way back again, someone had turned the broken tent poles into a set of steps up a muddy bank complete with handrails. The Jungle became a city and, like any city, it had shops, nightclubs, cafes, schools, community centres, church, mosque, library, theatre and you name it, whatever the human spirit most needs, it was there. Like any city there were people that exploited others, there were victims of violence, there were undercurrents of every kind. The difference with the Jungle was that it was stripped of the veneer of pretence that is layered so thickly over most cities. The veneer that allows us to believe that everything is under control. The veneer fuelled by car MOTs and weekly shops and latest fashions and food in abundance and music piped through shops telling us that everything is just fine. The jungle was the same as any other city but it didn’t, or couldn’t, pretend to be anything that it wasn’t. It was raw and real.
People miss it because it was so real, urgent, and it had a purpose even if that purpose was survival. Isn’t that the general purpose that we all have except it’s dressed up a bit fancier than that? People miss the community spirit, the pulling together, being able to help one another. I miss the fact that there were so many people there spending time trying to be good rather than spending time trying to look good. I saw real beauty in that place. People miss it because it was like no other place that any of us are likely to experience, the good and the bad. Most of all people miss the people. Most of us there would, in other circumstances, never have got to meet one another, people from around 20 different countries would never have crossed paths and friendships were thrown together of the most improbably combinations. Over the last year I have lost old friends and made new friends. That’s life I suppose.
I bow my head in awe at the people I have met. Journeys made over and over, journeys across the world, escaping war, escaping all sorts, stories and stories that will swim round my head forever. Volunteers who came together and achieved what seemed the impossible. The one constant thread running through that place was tenacity. Tenacity is so often seen as a virtue but it came to be seen as a threat. The Jungle was a mirror held up to the world and the world did not like what it saw. It was a reminder of the inhumanity that lies so embedded within the system that proclaims to greatly to be there to take care of us all. It was a mirror that the world was not ready to look into. Just yet anyway but there is always hope…